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Protecting Our Children

Dealing with Concern About ‘The Look'

By JoAnn Hibbert Hamilton

Guys and gals have to deal with “the Look” promoted by the mass media. “Peruse the magazine racks at the local supermarket and you'll see publications such as Shape and Seventeen with images of svelte (slender) models with perfect figures,” say Tom Neven and Rhonda Handlon in their article, “Media Images Affect Teens at Both Extremes,” Plugged In, Focus on the Family, August 2004.

These magazines send a strong message to young girls about how they should look in order to be considered beautiful. They get a double whammy when they look inside the magazines and see ads for diet products – 10 ½ times more than in boys' magazines – and three quarters of them carrying a message about how to change body appearance through diet, cosmetic surgery, or exercise.

Movies and TV reinforce unrealistic images. Canadian researcher Gregory Fouts estimates that a vast majority of female characters in sitcoms appear to be underweight, and only one in 20 is average in size. TV shows, such as “The Swan,” features women who undergo cosmetic surgery and diet/exercise programs in a quest to feel more beautiful. “The Swan's” producers understood this and responded by offering contestants extensive life coaching and counseling. Note, however, that young viewers received no such guidance.

Is it so hard to understand why eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia are on the rise among teen girls and boys? At the same time, the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges the rise in childhood obesity, which represents a great danger to children's health. The source here is fast foods, junk foods, the lack of eating a balanced meal together as a family, and the amount of time spent in activities that produce no exercise, such as television watching, videos, video games, etc., which are often coupled with junk food.

And does this affect boys as well as girls?

“Dr. Doug Bunnell of the National Eating Disorders Association says he has seen an increase in teen boys with anorexia or bulimia. Sometimes boys fight these issues to attract girls. Others battle with pent-up anger or stress, which manifests itself through an eating disorder.”

The Centers for Disease Control reports that the proportion of overweight children ages 6-11 has more than doubled in the past 25 years and the rate for teens has tripled.

The solution?

  • Understand that time spent in front of a TV or computer screen detracts from time children could be engaged in physical activities.
  • Understand that the cross-promotion of junk food and TV encourages children to make poor food choices.
  • Know that children tend to snack on less healthy foods while watching media.
  • Know that watching television and videos lowers a child's metabolic rate below what it would be if sleeping, which results in more calories being converted to fat.
  • Direct comments on a child's body image make a difference.
  • Be quick to praise.
  • Parent's example makes a difference.
  • Encourage recreational activities, such as hiking, camping, swimming, and sports.
  • Verbally confronting the issue that the photos are unrealistic helps. Only 4 percent of today's women fit the ideal of narrow hips and large busts. Boys need to know how unnatural and difficult it is to maintain six-pack abs.

In conclusion, open conversation, healthy eating, and recreation are keys to improving physical and emotional well-being.

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